Thursday, August 19, 2010

We Need A Scapegoat! We Need A Scapegoat!

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness . . . And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness . . . And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month . . . to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. Leviticus 16: 8-34 King James Version online. 

Blame Butcher! Blame Hatcher! Blame Scioscia! (only if you are named T.J. Simers) listen to the calls on the radio and read the message boards and blogs. If there’s one Biblical commandment that Angels fans can be found observing regardless of religious denomination, it’s the call for a scapegoat when the team struggles. With the Angels struggling to maintain a .500 average on the season, the mob is howling loudly to blame somebody.

I’m all for personal accountability. I strongly believe in it. However, I do not believe that the failures for this team are the result of Butcher, Hatcher, or even Scioscia. This team struggled because too many players on this team failed to perform up to their expectations or even their career averages. On paper this team should have performed much better than it did.

The problem with a scapegoat is that a scapegoat is antithetical to personal responsibility; it shifts the blame from those who caused the problem onto someone who had nothing to do with it. People should be held accountable for their own failures, not those of others. In the case of the coaches and managers, they aren’t the ones swinging the bats or throwing the pitches. The players are the ones performing poorly and they are the ones who should be held accountable.

While politically scapegoats are popular, sound organizational philosophy diametrically opposes their use. Strong organizations exist and succeed because they do not buckle to pressures and change their designs on a whim. They stay strong because they stay consistent. Consistency comes from the top. It’s a management driven concept that works best when the players buy into the message coming from the management and replicate it in their work.

Similarly, winning teams stay as winning teams because they maintain their core standards even as the players change. It’s very rare that a team can change managers or coaches mid-season and win a championship because of the lack of managerial consistency. It takes time for coaches to develop and teach a style of play and to assemble a team capable of executing it.

When teams fire managers and coaches as scapegoats, it sends all the wrong messages to the players. It works entirely against the concept of consistency and tells the players that they are more important than the coaches or managers even though the players are the ones not performing their jobs. That’s not good management. In an era of rapid free agency, letting the moving parts of the organization dictate management’s philosophy is not a sound strategy. It’s letting the tail wagging the dog.

At the same time, firing a coach as a scapegoat typically makes things worse for the organization. By letting the players off the hook, it tells them that they don’t have to listen to any of the remaining or future coaches and should continue to do as they wish. Most likely, the players who are underperforming are struggling because they are resisting the changes suggested by the coaches and managers. Thus, firing a scapegoat will make it that much harder for the next person to make the necessary adjustments to get the most out of the player because the flaws still remain but the player will be even less receptive to the message.

This isn’t to say that coaches and managers should never be fired. If they are unprepared, substandard in their efforts to work with the players, or selected a style of play that isn’t working, then they should be held accountable. If there are work-related incidents that need addressing then the teams should deal with them immediately. If the coaches are following an obviously flawed style of play, then they coaches should be held accountable.

Over the years, there have been dozens of players who have played for Butcher, Hatcher and the rest of the Angels’ coaches. Despite ample opportunity, no one who has worked directly with Butcher, Hatcher, or Scioscia has been critical of their performance on the job (well, except for Jose Guillen, but if anything, being criticized by Jose Guillen is probably a sign that they are doing good things!). In fact, many current and former players have praised the Angels coaching staff for their work.

Furthermore, these coaches are the same coaches who last year took the team to a 97-65 record in 2009 and established new team highs for batting average and runs scored. Why blame Butcher for Scott Kazmir’s struggles? Butcher didn’t throw any of Kazmir’s meatballs. Why blame Hatcher for the team’s batting average dropping nearly 30 points on the season? He didn’t swing at all the bad pitches.

If the issue is the style of play, then the Angels are better off waiting until the offseason to make changes in the coaches rather than firing a scapegoat. That way the Angels, as an organization, can decide on a new style of play and determine which of their players and managers should be a part of it and which ones should not. At that point, the Angels may still find that the Butcher, Hatcher and the other coaches fit in well with the new style. So, they might not need to change them or that they need to acquire new players for 2011.

It’s pretty easy for fans to call for a scapegoat. They hear the coaches and managers talking optimistically about the team and players and think that their comments are delusional. The coaches and managers aren’t delusional. However, they aren’t about to throw a player or the team under the bus, especially publicly (only Ozzie Guillen does that and it does not sit well with many of his players).

Butcher, Hatcher, and Scioscia have to live and work with their players and they have tickets to sell. There are legal reasons why they can’t release all the information about a player’s injury all the time. It’s their job to protect and guard many personal issues that the fans will never know. And, it’s their job to help the team sell tickets to make a profit. They can’t do their job by calling out the players in the press even though many fans would want them to do so.

Since buying this team, Arte Moreno has established high expectations for the team that he wants to field each and every year. With great expectations come the risks of great frustrations. While this year has not worked out as planned, there’s no need to call for Butcher’s, Hatcher’s, or Scioscia’s job. The Angels will be a stronger organization if they resist the temptation for a scapegoat and instead focus on doing an honest appraisal of their team, determine which parts need improvement, and making the key changes in the offseason. It may not be the most popular course, but it is the right course.
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